Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What I'm Playing: 5 Back-to-School Tips for Habit RPG

I've mentioned Habit RPG before. I started playing about three weeks ago, and since then I've hit level 12, maybe even level 13 by the time this goes up. I've had a chance to really get a feel for how the site works and how to use it to motivate myself, so I figured I'd return to the topic in greater detail and give you some tips on how to best use the site to your advantage, especially now that many people are back in school.

1. Be Gentle With Yourself

I think there's a temptation, when the game (and the school year) is fresh and shiny in front of you, to add a whole slew of "dailies" and say, "Yeah, now I'm gonna stay on track!" For some people this works, but more likely than not you're going to hit a streak where you miss a couple. Before you know it, your HP has taken some critical blows but you don't have the 25 gold to pony up for a health potion. Then the temptation to cheat sets in, and you mark things done that you haven't done—or maybe you keep yourself honest, but you die (and lose a level and some equipment). That's not very encouraging, either.

In the beginning, don't overload your dailies. Keep them very low-key. Are you going to study French and calculus and art history one hour each every night? Well, good on you if you do, but it might be more prudent to have just one hour every night of studying something.

As you get better at life and school and studying, you can add more dailies and habits to keep yourself challenged, but you want to start out with attainable (though still important!) goals.

2. Schedule, Schedule, Schedule

When you add a task to your dailies, you have the option of selecting which days it applies. While most of my dailies are true dailies, I have some exceptions. I don't have any of my work-related dailies listed for the weekend; I have a weekly Monday and Thursday reminder to deposit money in my savings account and to post a Trek Thursday post, respectively. But "wash some dishes" and "drink 1 liter of water" are set to every day, because they need to be done every day.

When you add a new daily, by default it's set to seven days a week. If you want to edit anything about a daily, click the pencil in the upper right corner of that task's little rectangle. Then, select the days you want to be exceptions.

For example, maybe you have art history on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Let's say you get assigned a reading on Monday with a reaction or worksheet due on Thursday (so that you can all discuss it in class on Friday). This is a pattern that repeats throughout the semester—so you can choose one day a week and make that assignment a recurring task to accomplish on that day. On Tuesday, let's say, so that you get it done in a timely fashion.

That way you don't have to remember to constantly add a new to-do item every week, and you keep yourself on track to stay on task.

3. One Step at a Time

Dailies and to-dos can be broken down into checklists for each task. Check lists are a great way to keep a big project from seeming overwhelming. Every time you successfully complete one item on a checklist, you get partial credit; when the whole thing is done, you get the whole shebang.

If you have to write a report on Charles de Gaulle for French class, you could add "Finish Charles de Gaulle project" to your to-do list. That's great, but it's kind vague. How should you begin such a project? How much work does it really entail? It helps to break the project down into steps, something like:

1. Read Wikipedia article on de Gaulle; decide what events and time periods you'd like to focus on. (Military career? Presidency? etc.)
2. Head to the library and find some relevant sources.
3. More reading; take notes.
4. Write first draft; send to professor for corrections and suggestions.
5. Rewrite.
6. Insert a couple relevant images.
7. Submit final copy.

Or however you like. By breaking down the project into small, bite-sized tasks, it goes from overwhelming and bewildering to achievable.

4. When in Doubt: Habit

By far, what I use the most often on HabitRPG are the habits. They're more forgiving than the dailies, and they're more flexible. These are the tasks that you want to do regularly, but don't always, or that you can do multiple times in a day. There are actually a lot of clever things to be done with habits.

For example, all of my exercise-related goals are habits, because some days I do a lot and other days I don't do any at all. I also have multiple habits for the same activity, in increasing chunks of time (i.e. cycling for 30 minutes is one habit, cycling for 35 minutes is another, and so on up until cycling for 50 minutes). That way, if I only feel like doing a bit, I still get a reward, but if I do a lot, I get extra rewards: if I cycle for 50 minutes, I get to check off every cycling habit from 50 minutes down to 30.

Let's say you have a stack of French vocabulary flashcards with words you know you'll need to know for the midterm. You could make "review French vocab" a habit. Some days you'll go through the stack three times (three clicks on the habit!), other times you'll go a couple days without reviewing at all because you have other things you're working on. If you start skipping too much, the habit will go from yellow to orange to red, and then you can see right away that oops, you should review your vocab before you start on that calculus homework!

5. Play With Friends

What's more fun than playing a game? Playing a game with your friends!

While it costs cash currency to buy gems and start a guild ($5 for 20 gems; 4 gems to start a guild), creating challenges is free. A challenge is simply a collection of habits/dailies/to-dos that someone else has created.Some challenges have an in-game reward for completion, others are their own reward. You could create a calculus challenge for your study group, maybe with just the habit of "complete a problem set." Anyone on the site can join a challenge, and you can see on the challenge's blurb how well everyone is (or isn't!) doing.

Challenges can be associated with a particular guild, too. If you decide to donate to the site for some gems and start a guild for your calculus study group, then you can flag the challenge with the name of your guild and make it easier for everyone to find. Plus, then you all have a space on the site to chat and ask questions and help each other out.

But if you don't feel like starting a guild or creating a challenge, just getting your friends to play is fun, too! JV and I both play, and we help hold each other accountable for our tasks and to-dos, and remind each other to get things done. You can also join up in a party and go on quests together! (Most quests you have to buy with gems, but there are some that come out during world events, or when you hit a particular level.)

Bonus: the game is what you make of it.

The point of HabitRPG isn't for you to achieve a game designer's goal of beating a final boss or getting the best ending. The point of HabitRPG is to make your life better. It should be motivating and encouraging you, not stressing you out. The game is what you make of it. For example, I only have a couple of "negative" habits (gaming on the couch [as opposed to while I'm on the exercise bike] and reading junk news), but I hardly ever click on them (even though I engage in them a lot!). I also have those bad habits set up as rewards, so I can opt to "punish" myself by buying them as rewards. The only time I click them as bad habits is when I don't have enough gold to buy them as rewards. All of the rest of my habits are positive only.

That's what works for me: I know that taking massive HP hits because I got sucked into Diablo 3 or had a snack attack isn't going to be rewarding. Other people are more aggressive in their self-improvement. It's all up to you.

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